February 16, 2008
Excerpted from The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider (William Morrow, An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2006). Copyright 2006 by Sally Schneider
This unusual lamb meat loaf, seasoned with cumin, coriander, fennel, and cinnamon was inspired by the flavors of a Moroccan lamb tagine. The thin core of pitted prunes baked into the center gives a hint of sweetness that balances the spices, an interesting, though not essential, embellishment.
1. In a small skillet, cook 1 medium onion, chopped (scant 1-1/4 cups), in 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, covered, over low heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Uncover, increase the heat slightly, and sauté, stirring frequently, until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 2 garlic cloves, minced (1 tablespoon), and cook, stirring, 1 minute longer. Then add 1/2 cup dry white wine and simmer until the liquid has evaporated, 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine 1-1/2 pounds lean ground lamb, 1/2 pound lean ground veal, the onion mixture, 1-1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs, 1/4 cup yogurt, 2 large eggs, 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano, 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley,1-1/4 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper, 1-1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves, 1-1/4 teaspoons ground cumin, 1-1/4 teaspoons ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 3 tablespoons tahini or 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, and 2-1/2 to 3 teaspoons grated lemon zest. Mix by hand until well blended.
3. Scoop half the mixture into the center of a large heavy baking pan and smooth into a squat loaf about 10 x 5 inches. Arrange 8 to 10 pitted prunes end to end in a line down the center of the loaf. Pile the remaining meat mixture on top and smooth into a neat loaf.
Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center reads 150 F, about 55 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before transferring to a platter.
Darra Goldstein is editor in chief of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, an 888-page reference guide to all things sweet. "The book is really a compendium of human desires, a cultural history of desire for things that are sweet and what it has caused in the world, in both the realm of pleasure and also of pain," she says.